Can a Christian get angry? Yes, but it’s what we do with it that matters
Nov 2, 2020
“Know this, my dear brothers: everyone should be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger.” (James 1:19)
It is pretty safe to say we have all experienced anger at some point in our lives, maybe even in the infamous year of 2020. Hatred, racism, violence, lockdown, death and COVID-19 are only a few of the words in the headlines that have stirred our country’s emotions in an impactful way. There have been a lot of injustices in the world and, therefore, many justifications for anger. As followers of Christ, how do we live this out? “Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger ...” (Ephesians 4:26).
Good anger vs. bad anger
One day, I expressed anger at a situation that really upset me to one of my brothers. My expression was less than Christ-like. My little brother, Charlie, listened and heard what I said, then patiently and intelligibly acknowledged that my anger was justified. He explained that anger was an emotional response to injustice. This made me feel better, for a moment, about being as angry as I was and how I could justify allowing it to take so much of my energy. Then he continued. He said that we can use that anger in a good way to bring about justice or in a bad way to continue the cycle of injustice. My mind was blown by the simplicity of his message, and it has taken a hold on my heart.
Justice and anger
The relationship between justice and anger is inseparable. Anger is described as a violation of the fifth commandment, “thou shall not kill.” “In the Sermon on the Mount, the Lord recalls the commandment, ‘You shall not kill,’ and adds to it the proscription of anger, hatred, and vengeance ...” (Catechism of the Catholic Church 2262). Anger has been used as a justification for continued injustice many times throughout history, and even in the present day. “Eye for an eye” (Ex. 21:24) and Jesus overturning the tables of the money changers (Matthew 21:12) are two common Christian defenses for the ideology that continuing the cycle of injustice is an acceptable and sometimes necessary practice. However, this dismisses the nature of justice itself. “Justice is the moral virtue that consists in the constant and firm will to give their due to God and neighbor ...” (CCC 1807).
Justice does not exist apart from the Cross
Similar to most one liners, Scripture passages cannot stand alone. In the New Testament, Jesus elaborates, “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also” (Mt. 5:38-39). Instead of trying to explain to us what it means to turn the other cheek, Jesus gave us an example to follow: the Cross.
Turning the other cheek could, in some scenarios, be a literal phrase, but more often, God is revealing a deeper truth. God could have snapped His fingers to forgive sins, so why didn’t He? He is a just God, and a debt had to be paid. Jesus Christ, His Son, came and died for our injustices toward others, and the debt is no more. Through the Cross, justice is served for all mankind.
How do we live out anger as followers of Christ?
Anger at an unjust person, behavior, action, or word is justifiable. Anger might be the driving force behind an action or word in retribution, but that is not anger itself, nor is it just. If we try to take justice into our own hands, when God has already paid the debt of those who have done wrong, it will destroy us instead of the injustice we seek to end. God calls us to trust in Him, and “Be angry and do not sin” (Eph 4:26).
Residue of anger
Anger leaves its residue of resentment, which we do not always see, that can trickle into other parts of our lives and impact how we view others. Similar to cancer, if we do not identify our resentments toward a person or sinners of a particular nature, then it can poison the rest of who we are. Anger and resentment must be left at the Cross. “If someone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen” (1 John 4:20).
Mary Morasso is a mother and parishioner of SS. Cyril and Methodius Parish in Sterling Heights. She holds a bachelor's degree in pastoral theology from Sacred Heart Major Seminary and has taught theology at the high school level.